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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Ross Douthat On Bad Religion

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HH: This hour, I’m not going to talk about my book. I’m going to talk about a different book, the book I read on the way here, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics by Ross Douthat. He is the New York Times columnist, he’s written a number of great books, but Bad Religion is really riveting. I’m pleased to welcome now Ross, it’s good to have you on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

RD: Thanks so much for having me, Hugh. It’s great to be here.

HH: Now I’ve got to ask you first of all, you know, I did not realize you had this deep interest in matters of faith. I worked this field in the 90s for PBS and I find it fascinating, but when did you decide you were going to write this kind of a book, which is sort of a Martin Marty update with a little bit more current sociology put in.

RD: I think the idea really came to me in the second half of the Bush presidency when we had this wave of debate really kicked off, I think, by a kind of liberal panic after the 2004 elections that, you know, values voters had somehow put Bush over the top, and there was this whole idea that America was turning into a theocracy, and the religious right was taking over, and so on, all of which I thought were pretty ludicrous ideas overall. But they created this climate where everything was about the secular left versus the religious right, and you had the wave of new atheists and so on, the Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. And what struck me at the time, and sort of helped inspire the book, I think, was that there’s this huge part of the American religious landscape that doesn’t necessarily fit into sort of right versus left culture war categories. And so I wanted to write a book in part about sort of what happened to American Christianity over the last fifty years, because I think what’s happened is that we’ve become less traditionally Christian without becoming necessarily less religious. We’re less traditionally Christian, but we’re not secular. And what we are, really, is a country dominated by pop spirituality in all its different forms. And so this is in part a book about that, about Joel Osteen, and about Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, about Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code, all these things that don’t always fit into a sort of secular versus religious paradigm.

HH: That’s why I referenced Martin Marty. When I was preparing for Searching For God In American in 1996, I read Marty, and he always found time to take a detour to tell us about the Shakers, or he would go over here and do the Burnt Over district, or something like that, and I found Bad Religion fascinating because you are doing a waterfront here in fairly comprehensive, brisk, but very well-researched fashion. And I’m curious that no one else has tried this before. I want to stress to the audience who have heard E.J. Dionne on with me often, or Hitchens before he died many, many times, I hosted debates between Christopher and Mark Roberts and David Allen White, and Richard Dawkins has been on. This is not what you’re doing. You’re not arguing a case for or against God. You are really doing a waterfront survey.

RD: Right. I mean, the book is, you know, I am Roman Catholic myself, and the book is written, as the title and subtitle suggests, from an argumentative perspective, right? I’m critical of a lot of the forms of religion that I’m writing about. But I’m not engaged in the ‘does God exist or not’ debate. I’m basically taking religious belief for granted, and trying to explore what religious belief looks like in the United States, and what the shape of religion means for our national life in everything from our marriages and our families to how we think about our financial decisions, or real estate decisions in the last ten years or so, and so on.

HH: I’m talking with Ross Douthat. His new book is Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. He’s of course a New York Times columnist. His book is linked at I’m going to urge it on you just because it’s a lot of fun. If you have anything like my worldview, which is Christian, and you want to know what’s been going on, it is really a wonderful, comprehensive look. But Ross, to tell this story, I want a little bit of your story. And I thought you, now probably purposefully guarded in the exploration of your own faith, your Catholic commitments are referred to in the book. And so I went to my Wikipedia, and found that you were a Pentecostal. And I was just, what’s the brief Ross Douthat story?

RD: The brief Ross Douthat story is that I was baptized and initially raised Episcopalian in Southern Connecticut. That’s where I grew up. But at a certain point, probably when I was about seven or eight years old, my parents started attending charismatic healing services that were held by, this woman had a healing ministry, and they were held in high school auditoriums around Connecticut, and there were people who spoke in tongues and were slain in the Spirit and so on. And this became our entrée into a sort of broader Pentecostal, and then Evangelical world where I spent a lot of my youth. But then ultimately, we ended up converting sort of as a family to Catholicism when I was about sixteen or seventeen years old. And part of the reason why, I mean, and I think clearly, that is part of my interest in what you called the waterfront of American Christianity, is that we did a kind of tour of American Christianity in my youth. But part of the reason I’m not so much guarded about it, but it is, that story is a little bit more my parents’ story than my own. I was more in part a spectator, I would say, than…you know, I never spoke in tongues myself. Only my parents did.

HH: But your faith survived Harvard. Were you in the cradle of St. Paul’s at that time? Where were you…

RD: I did attend St. Paul’s, and yes, I wouldn’t say that…that’s, for listeners who don’t know, that’s the Catholic parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And it was a parish that had, let’s say, a slightly more liberal theological perspective than my own. But I don’t think, overall, I think the experience of going to Harvard didn’t, I think it was in certain ways easier, certainly easier to be a political conservative at Harvard, and in certain ways, easier to be a Christian, too, just because if you could sort of, if you could deal with the fact that you were in the minority, obviously, and sometimes in a very small minority, that actually made the educational experience much, much better, right? Because you were…

HH: Absolutely.

RD: …sort of constantly being challenged and prodded in ways that my more liberal and secular classmates weren’t. And I always tell people that a lot of the most interesting conservatives, religious believers, what have you, were people I knew at Harvard, because to be a conservative or a Christian at Harvard, you almost had to be interesting by default.

HH: Are you familiar with the work of Dr. Mark Roberts, who both was an undergrad and got his PhD in the graduate school, not in divinity school, from Harvard, and is quite a wonderful theologian?

RD: I am, yes. Not perhaps as familiar as I should be, but…

HH: Well, he’s my very good friend. But we have often remarked on the wisdom of what Paul Johnson said, which is in the 50s, everyone at Harvard believed, and in the 70s, almost nobody did, and now, everyone kind of understands there’s a protected minority. I’m not sure, I think you’re probably on the cusp of the Veritas movement. You probably got there before it got there. But you write in Bad Religion, one of the things that we need is a Christianity that is actually comfortable in urban, literate faculty clubs, Ivy Leagues, among basically culture formers.

RD: Right, and this is, the book, the book starts out in the 1940s and 50s with the post-War revival in American Christianity. And one of the points I make is that revival was obviously, you know, it happened at the popular level, church attendance went up, you had Billy Graham’s crusades, church construction and so on. But it was also a highbrow affair, right? It was, you know, it was Reinhold Niebuhr. It was W.H. Auden. It was C.S. Lewis and Thomas Merton and all these figures who didn’t, they didn’t necessarily conquer the faculty lounge for Christ, but they did make Christianity more intelligible and credible to an elite audience. And I think it often is today. And maybe, you know, there have been…I think you’re right that things are better in certain ways than they were in the 1970s. I think almost everything’s better than it was in the 1970s. But I think it’s still the case that you don’t, you know, you don’t have as much of a serious Christian presence at the elite level in American culture as you did fifty or sixty years ago.

HH: Now within the community of the New York Times, and it’s a very diverse community, and I’ve welcomed David Brooks and Nicholas Kristoff and many of your colleagues, and John Burns is my favorite reporter ever, so within that community…

RD: Fantastic, yes.

HH: Do they look at you sideways and say oh, that’s just Ross, he’s our token Catholic who actually believes? Or is it not a question that anyone raises with you?

RD: I mean, I think that, you know, I should say I’ve only been at the Times for two and a half or three years. And I work out of Washington rather than New York. So I’m not sort of as deeply enmeshed in the institutional culture maybe as some of my colleagues are. But overall, I mean, I think that they, there is a commitment to intellectual diversity in terms of who writes for the op-ed page and so on. And I think that they see my presence on the page as hopefully a representation of that diversity. I think there is, you know, nobody at the Times is under the illusion that their readership does not tilt liberal, right?

HH: Correct.

RD: And obviously, the editorial positions of the Times are pretty liberal as well. But I think that they, my assumption is that in bringing me on board, they wanted not just a conservative voice, but a voice that was interested in some of the issues that I’m writing about in this book.

HH: Well, God bless…we’ll continue the conversation after the break, and I think God bless Ross Douthat for writing Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. In many respects, it would have been much easier for him not to have written this book, and I’ll tell you why when we come back.

– – – –

HH: I’ve got to ask you, Ross, on this show, oh, I guess two years ago, Richard Dawkins was my guest, and I was interviewing him, and he said at one point, oh my gosh, you’re a Christian. And I said yes, I am. And he said do you really believe that Jesus changed water into wine? Really? And I answered yes, I did. So I’m going to ask you that. Do you really believe that happened?

RD: Oh, yeah. That seems like a relatively easy one.

HH: That’s what I said.

RD: Right? I mean, water into wine, you know, but yes, the answer is yes.

HH: And in a thorough going way, are you, on the Catholic spectrum, which you by the way chart in Bad Religion, from the separatists, and David Allen White, who is a friend of mind, Pius X Society, he debated Hitchens here on this program at great length. On that spectrum from Pius X through Benedict over to our version of the accommodation as to Sister Mary, I like Obama, who runs the Catholic Health Care Association, where are you?

RD: What I sometimes say to people is that I think that I would have been just a perfectly fine sort of good enough Catholic in, like, 1958 or so, and nobody, you know, somebody who made it to Mass on Sunday, and checked the boxes and so on without being considered sort of particularly zealous. But because I am, yeah, generally pretty orthodox in my views, I’m viewed at pretty zealous today.

HH: Are you a confession going Catholic?

RD: Yes, again, not as often as I should, but I go to confession, I believe it’s that, you know, I’m often a Christmas and Easter confession goer, rather than a monthly or weekly confession goer. I aspire to be a more regular confession goer.

HH: Hey, Easter duties once a year, right? That’s the deal.

RD: That is the duty, right. So that’s, I mean, and I think this actually does go back to my family background, too, because my mother in particular was a more sort of pious and zealous personality, I think, than I am. And my faith is probably a more sort of intellectualized affair with all the weaknesses that come with that. But I am, you know, I am generally an admirer of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and I think that in the debates over the trajectory of the Catholic Church in the 70s and 80s, that the more theologically conservative side had the better of the argument.

HH: That’s what so impressed me about Bad Religion, because I am a cradle Catholic who took a detour for fifteen years to Evangelicalism. And now, I go to Mass on Saturday night, and I go to my Presbyterian church on Sunday morning in order to just…

RD: So you’re a Sam Brownback kind of guy, right?

HH: I am a Sam Brownback.

RD: Or a Marco, I think, you know, Marco Rubio has sort of…

HH: There are some of us who love the liturgical and the exegetical, and get them where they can be found. Now I want to ask you, though, with that sensibility, I am part of the lost generation. I’m part of that lost world that you write about, because I’m born in ’56. I learned to serve the Mass in Latin, and then they changed everything. Your sensibility, though, is very attuned to that, even though you’re an import. And I just, you must have worked hard. You didn’t do twelve years in Catholic education like I did.

RD: No, but I also think that for my generation, and I’m in my early 30s, I came of age after so many of those post-Vatican II debates and so on. So from the perspective of Catholics my age, I think that there is, and you know, maybe it’s overstated, sometimes, but there is a sort of nostalgia for some of what was either lost or maybe even squandered in the 60s and 70s, so I don’t, for instance, I am not a Latin Mass Catholic. I have a lot of friends who attend the Tridentine rite, and are very happy to see it restored and so on. I, you know, go to the Novus Ordo, the post-Vatican II Mass, and that’s the Mass to me. But when you look back at the pre-Vatican II Catholic culture, there was, I think there was a richness there that was sort of, you know, out of an understandable desire to keep the faith fresh and so one, was often sort of squandered or put away in that, again, especially, I’d say, in the late 60s and 70s. And I think, and this wasn’t just a Catholic phenomenon, and it was present in mainline Protestantism as well, there was the sense that because there were so many challenges facing Christianity, the thing to do was to sort of run very fast, trying to keep up with wherever the culture was going. And the problem was that the culture went in a lot of crazy directions.

HH: That’s what I think people will appreciate about Bad Religion, which is Ross Douthat’s new book, is that he runs through what he generally calls heresies. And it’s the accommodation that occurred, particularly shattering in the Catholic Church, the gospel of wealth, which is particularly shattering within the Evangelical church, the god within, which devastates…I mean, I remember interviewing the guy who wrote the Celestine Prophecy when you were probably in college, Ross, and thinking to myself, this is just nuts, this is going to ruin…

RD: And the more we evolve, the higher we vibrate.

HH: You bet. You got it. Gosh, that was…and then the City On The Hill. So these are large…explain to people sort of the organization of the book by heresies so that they understand you’re not throwing thunderbolts at people. You’re just kind of categorizing the various geographies of faith.

RD: Sure. Well, one way to think about it is that I think the 60s and 70s posed some particular challenges to Christianity, right? And one is the challenge obviously posed by the sexual revolution, right, in the sense that traditional Christian sexual ethics are out of date and no longer apply. And out of that, I think, you get a lot of contemporary, what you might call sort of therapeutic spirituality, right, what you get from the Celestine Prophecy, what you get from a book like Eat, Pray, Love, which basically says the only god that matter is the one that you find inside yourselves, and therefore, you know, this, whatever you find inside yourself is probably god, and therefore, you shouldn’t worry about being judged for, say, leaving your husband, as the author of Eat, Pray, Love does in the opening pages of her book.

HH: Yup.

RD: So you have that sort of mapping onto the sexual revolution. And then I think you have the fact that America just becomes a much richer country in the post-war era. And the generation that comes of age in that abundance, you know, the traditional New Testament suspicion of great wealth and so on, that’s a little bit of a harder sell. And so that’s where I think the prosperity gospel comes in. That’s where the message that God just wants you to get rich suddenly becomes a much easier sell than some of the New Testament, you know, camel-needles-eye, all that kind of stuff. So it’s sex and it’s money, and then I also think you, you know, you get it to some extent with politics as well, where as Americans remain religious, we have all this religious energy, but our religious institutions are weaker than before. And so we’re more likely to pour that religious energy into, let’s say, if you’re a liberal, it’s the political candidacy of Barack Obama in 2008, right? All that hope and change, celebrities keening for Obama, to me, that looks like misplaced religious energy that should be channeled into institutional faith rather than a candidacy that inevitably is going to let people down.

HH: And when we come back from break, we also channel it into Glenn Beck rallies on the Mall, according to Ross Douthat in his new book, Bad Religion, and we channel it into a missionary zeal to bring democracy around the world in the Bush administration, in a lot of different places, very even-handed treatment.

– – – –

HH: It’s probably not what you think it is. It’s not what I thought it was. I thought it was going to be more theology as opposed to descriptive sociology and a meditation on faith. I think, Ross, you paid Glenn Beck a very high compliment by taking him seriously, by reading what he’s written, by reviewing what was said at his many rallies, by noting that he’s part of a tradition that has, and I think he’s going to like this the least, but it’s true, has antecedents in both parties, including Woodrow Wilson, that the Evangelical zeal of our Presbyterian pastor-turned-president is very much part of what Glenn Beck was tapping into on the Mall rally. He’s not going to like that. But I think you’re paying serious attention to the fact that this current is deep in America, and it bubbles up all over the place.

RD: Right, and I hope part of what I suggest is that there is a sort of mirror imaging at work, right? I say that there’s a messianic temptation, but also a kind of apocalyptic temptation. The messianic temptation is to say that, you know, and this goes all the way back to Wilson, and his part of progressive ideology in particular, but there are conservative versions, too, and it says that you know, it sort of confuses America and the Church. It says that America isn’t just an almost chosen people, we’re literally a chosen people, and we have a kind of Divine mission to build the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. I think that’s a temptation. That’s not the traditional Christian view. Traditionally, Christians are called to be engaged in politics, but also to be aware that you don’t build utopia on Earth. But then there’s the flip side of that, which is the more apocalyptic side, and it sort of says the opposite. It says well, we had the kingdom of Heaven on Earth, but we’ve lost it, probably because something our political enemies have done. And therefore, we’re being justly punished by God and so on. And I see a bit of that in Beck. I don’t think he’s identical to Wilson, who, and I think he’s actually quite right to…and Wilson is one of my least favorite presidents as well…

HH: Yes. Between you and Jonah and Glenn Beck, yeah…

RD: So I think Beck is right to dislike Wilson, but I think that the temptation for Beck is, you know, and obviously he says a lot of different things, and you know, you can sort of pick and choose, but there’s a sense in which we had Heaven on Earth with the founding and we’ve fallen away. And if you go and look at the rally that he held on the Mall, they had pictures of Washington and Jefferson and Franklin done in the sort of Barack Obama hope and change style, right?

HH: Yup, yup.

RD: Now in a way, right, that’s clever and funny and so on, but it also risks, you know, just as I think a lot of liberals quasi-divinized Obama, I think it’s a mistake to over-divinize the founders. I have nothing but intense admiration for them, but you don’t want to get into the sort of confused position of saying that the founding is on the same level as, let’s say, the founding of Christianity itself.

HH: Oh, it’s very, very fair-handed, and that’s why I will recommend Bad Religion to my conservative, even my arch-conservative readers, so that they understand how a center-right intellectual views some of this manifestation, and one who shares our gospel. And so let me then go to something I’m surprised by, probably the most surprising thing. I think one of the towering figures of American Christian life right now is Archbishop Charles Chaput. Now he’s a friend of mine, but I think that because of his books, because of Render Unto Caesar, and most recently, A Heart On Fire. And I’m curious, do you not read him? Or were you purposefully trying to stay away from the bishops in your arguments?

RD: Oh, you mean in the sense that I don’t cite him as an example of…

HH: An emergent leader who is…

RD: An emergent leader?

HH: …actually an intellectual.

RD: No, I think actually, that’s a really fair point. I’m, I don’t know him as well as you do, but I’m an admirer of Archbishop Chaput as well. I’ve met him on a couple of occasions. And I think actually, he is, what’s happening in Philadelphia right now, where he has basically taken over one of these major American diocese that’s been devastated by the sex abuse crisis, is it’s hugely important for the future of American Catholicism, because here you have one of, part of this sort of younger generation of Catholic leaders trying to sort of rebuild things in the aftermath of a period that’s been, in certain ways, devastating to the Church. And so I, no, there’s, I mean, I guess we can just call it an oversight on my part. I think that…

HH: Well, I thought, okay, I thought maybe the new leadership, Cardinal Dolan, Chaput and…

RD: Well, in Dolan’s case, so when I was working on the book, Chaput was still in Denver…

HH: Right.

RD: And Dolan was not yet in New York. And so that shift had not yet happened. And so, to the extent that I didn’t mention Dolan, he wasn’t yet on the national scene.

HH: Oh, believe me, when we come back from break, I’m very sympathetic, because I just put out a book that’s been overtaken by events in the last five days. It makes me crazy.

– – – –

HH: Ross, I want to go back to where we were right before the break, talking about where we are immediately. And when I come to New York, as I am tonight, I will go to Mass at St. Patrick’s, and occasionally I see Dolan there, or I will attend also Redeemer Presbyterian Church, because I think Tim Keller may be the finest preacher at work in the United States today. And I think wow, there’s some great stuff going on in American Christianity. But at the end of your book, there is an air of pessimistic resignation. You want to, I think you call it a highbrow revival. You want more Christian art, more Christian saints. But you’re kind of resigned to we’re not going to get that.

RD: No, I’m not resigned to we’re not going to get that. But I think that Christians have to be realistic about the current moment, because you’re absolutely right, that if you look at specific examples, specific communities, both Catholic and Protestant, there is an intense vibrancy and revitalization to American Christianity that should make all of us encouraged. But then, if you step back and look at the culture as a whole, it’s also the case, one, that a lot of the trends I’m writing about in the book just seem to be accelerating, sort of anti-institutionalism, you know, a sort of social disintegration, the stuff that Charles Murray wrote about in his book earlier this year. And, if you look at the millennial generation, while there are real examples of intense piety and fervor, overall, they’re the least traditionally Christian generation in American history. So I’m not, it’s not a deep pessimism, and I think I try and make the point that given the story of the last 2,000 years, Christians always have to be long term optimists about the faith’s capacity for reinvention and revitalization. I just think, I spend a lot of time with conservative Christians who look at their own communities and see real vitality, and then sort of extrapolate that to the culture as a whole. And I thin it’s important for believers to realize that in terms of the culture as a whole, the Christian influence is not necessarily getting stronger.

HH: You know, once a week, I have a conference call with my network’s editorial board – Al Mohler, clearly one of the smartest guys working in this field, Michael Medved, orthodox Jew, brilliant, David Aikman, one of the highest brow journalists you ever could want, myself, and Arthur Brooks occasionally joins us. So we were talking, and some of the people from Salem, we were talking about pretty high end conservations. And we keep running into the same things, Ross. And you have a very interesting conversation about same sex marriage. You do not have a conservation about the HHS regs, because I’m sure your book was in galleys.

RD: Yeah, that was overtaken by events.

HH: Right. But these are pressing issues that confront the Christian who has to speak into the world about them, not messianically, but faithfully. And I know what you said about same sex marriage, and your call for a renewal of heterosexual chastity, and an emphasis on marriage is I think useful and predictable. But on the HHS regs, and on the demand for same sex marriage, what is a believer to do? I’d love to be able to say Jesus doesn’t care about marriage, and I’d love to be able to say…

RD: Right, but no, you can’t.

HH: You can’t.

RD: And this is the balancing act, right? I mean, we were talking earlier about some of my criticisms of Glenn Beck, and I am critical in many ways of certain aspects of how the religious right has done things over the past twenty years. But that criticism doesn’t mean that I’m calling for a Christian withdrawal from politics, because as the HHS mandate debate shows if you withdraw from politics, the next thing you know, Kathleen Sebelius is knocking on the door of your hospital with a set of rules for you to follow.

HH: Yes.

RD: So I think the challenge for Christians is to find a way to again not have the faith just seem like an aspect of the Republican Party’s platform, right? Christianity has to seem bigger than conservatism, bigger than the Republican Party, because it is. But by the same token, not to fall into the trap of saying well, politics is inherently corrupting, so we have to give up on it entirely, I don’t think that’s the right way to go, and I think the HHS debate is a perfect example of why in a country like ours you can’t walk away from politics.

HH: And this is, but this is a moment of genuine crisis. I think one of the greatest things about Bad Religion is you oblige me to go back and read probably for the first time since Gov 10 or something, the Letter From A Birmingham Jail. And it’s so applicable right now, because I broadcast from Thomas Aquinas College a few months ago on the week that the HHS regs came out. Catholics cannot go that way. They have to say no, Ross. And that, to a certain extent…

RD: Well, and they are, and this is a case where I do think, we were talking about Dolan and Chaput and a new generation of leadership in the bishops, and I think overall, the Catholic bishops have done an impressive job not just of being united on this issue, but of bringing other Catholic institutions along. The fact that something like the University of Notre Dame signed onto the lawsuits, right, was a big deal. The fact that it isn’t just the bishops, it’s also charities and health organizations and universities and so on, that has made the bishops’ response more effective, I think, than a lot of people, certainly in the Obama White House, I guess, expected it would be.

HH: The Benedict option which you discuss as one of the possible responses to the culture as it exists, which is to get smaller but more coherent in not just in Catholic Christianity but in Evangelical Christianity, and for probably orthodox Judaism as well, do you think that is what is happening in real time?

RD: I think it’s happening in a lot of places. It’s happening where people home school there kids. You know, it’s happening with, you know, the sort of cliché is the big Catholic family doing organic farming somewhere out in Iowa, and so on.

HH: Yeah.

RD: But some of my best friends do organic farming. And I think there is a certain amount of that, that kind of withdrawal from what are perceived as broken or anti-Christian institutions. And again, I think it’s, that’s an option with a lot of appeal, especially to younger Christians, who are weary of some of these debates. The caution that I make, though, is that you know, I call my book How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. And you’ll note that I’m not saying it’s how we became a nation of pagans or how we became a secular nation. By saying that we’re a nation of heretics, I’m saying we’re still a nation that’s deeply influenced by Christianity. And as long as that is true, as long as the culture is still Christianish in some sense, I think it’s hard to see how Christians can feel completely comfortable withdrawing from it. We’re not really in a, you know, I sort of make the comparison to the Roman empire, but we’re not really where the Christians in the second century A.D. were.

HH: No, we’re not.

RD: I mean, it’s not at all like that.

HH: We’re not imperiled. We’re not imperiled at all. We’re imperiled institutionally, but not physically, and I don’t think we will be, at least in my lifetime.

– – – –

HH: I want to thank my guest this hour. Ross Douthat is the New York Times columnist who has written this wonderful new book, Bad Religion: How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. It is available at, Amazon, bookstores everywhere. So Ross, what’s the reaction that you’re getting from not just the New York Times people, but your friends in the world of sort of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite to having written this book?

RD: Oh, I think my friends in the Manhattan-Beltway media elite already knew that I was some sort of strange, religious fanatic, so I don’t think anything about the book has sort of, you know, affected those friendships in any way. I mean, I think there have been a couple of responses to the book which have been interesting. I think that there have been a lot more liberal Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, who think I am sort of somewhat unfair in the book to the choices that liberal Christianity made in the 60s and 70s, which is, you know, an understandable view on their part…

HH: Interesting. Sure.

RD: …because that’s where I think I’m most critical of the sort of liberal side of Christianity, is not even in the contemporary moment, but really the choices that were made by the post-60s generation. And then I think from Evangelicals, I think the most compelling criticism is that from an Evangelical point of view, the story I’m telling overall is a story of institutional decline. But most of that institutional decline is Catholic and mainline Protestant, right?

HH: Yes.

RD: And today, Evangelical Christianity is probably stronger, and certainly more intellectually serious and culturally influential than it was even during Billy Graham’s first crusade. So in that sense, if you just look at it from an Evangelical perspective, the story isn’t as sort of bleak and declinist maybe as I sometimes make it seem. And you know, there, my counter argument is just that you need to be holistic and ecumenical in your view of Christianity’s role in American culture. And if you take a more ecumenical view, I think it’s clear that Evangelical gains have not made up for the overall losses.

HH: Not yet, but we can pray. And I just want to say, again, it’s a fantastic effort, and quite a prodigious undertaking, and my hat’s off to you. Bad Religion is the book, How We Became A Nation Of Heretics. Ross, great to have you on the program, I look forward to having you back. 30 seconds, what’s your next project? You writing a book again?

RD: Oh, good Lord. No, my next project, like yours, is to cover the presidential election.

HH: Oh, well that’s much more fun.

RD: That is enough. Well, I don’t know if it’s more fun, but it’s certainly more immediately pressing.

HH: Well, come back and talk about that frequently, Ross Douthat. Thanks again. Bad Religion is the book, How We Became A Nation Of Heretics.

End of interview.


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